Review: Ides of March

Article @ Workers Power, published 7 November 2011

Sitting in his director’s chair, George Clooney delivers an (albeit mild) exposé of political campaigning, performing a sort of cinematographic version of Occupy Wall Street. One leaves the cinema questioning it all – the accountability of the political world, the validity of morals, the very notion of right and wrong.

Based on Beau Willimon’s play Farragut North, The Ides of March follows the crumbling integrity of young press secretary Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), as he develops from a scrupulous Democrat into an amoral careerist. This metamorphosis is set in the context of an Ohio primary, where presidential candidate Mike Morris (played by Clooney himself) is set to win or lose. With great dexterity Clooney lets the story unfold, as every role – from Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Paul Zara, to the not-so-innocent intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) – blooms into a deep and controversial character. The action is beautifully choreographed, adding in turns yet another element to the narrative and yet another twist to Meyer’s story.

In a way, The Ides of March is the deconstruction of the modern American Dream. Here is a world with the perfect liberal democrat (the environmentally conscious, diplomacy-advocating Governor Mike Morris), surrounded by cynical older political minions (his campaign manager, Zara, and his adversary’s campaign manager, Tom Duffy, brilliantly played by Paul Giamatti), and inspiring the younger generation (Stephen Mayer and Molly). It is a post-Obama world of politics, both in the ideological sense (the liberal versus neo-liberal conflict pervades the movie), as in the very nature of modern politics, with its blurred divisions between candidates and their teams, inevitable transparency (think of Wikileaks and the success of tell-all biographies) and fast-paced media communications.

I guess it is the clash between the audience’s acceptance of Morris’ fall of grace and the shocking realisation this is for Mayer that the film really plays on. The dramatic consequences of a sexual affair between Mike Morris and Molly (as well as Meyer’s own relationship with her) bring the conclusion of Stephen Meyer’s transformation, which can be posited as both vendetta and moral collapse. After all, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Clooney is establishing himself as a director with a particular eye for political dramas, and he does so with flair. The Ides of March reminded me a lot of Good Night and Good Luck, though with a more mature direction, specially in those close angle and chiaroscuro shots, which turn a play-adaptation into a titanic contestant at the next Oscar Awards. I also could not help but admire the way in which Clooney truthfully depicts what is still mainly a male-dominated world, while drawing in the peripheral, but essential female characters. Molly is effectively the victim of her own idealism, in harsh contrast with Gosling’s character, who survives his “coming of age”, albeit scarred. Morris’ wife (Jennifer Ehle) is the First Lady to be, the bastion of uncorrupted principles, even if solely by ignorance.

Finally, we have Marisa Tomei’s character, New York Times journalist Ida Horowicz, equal in mind and morals to her male counterparts, setting the very clear stance that this is not about gender or personality, but a system in which all participants ultimately seem to end as unscrupulous agents of individual interest.

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